Three authors create the first Minnesota breeding bird book in nearly a century


The cover of The Breeding Birds of Minnesota

By Mya Smith

Fifteen years in the making, The Breeding Birds of Minnesota is the first all-encompassing Minnesota breeding bird book in nearly a century.

Made for casual bird lovers and for professional ornithologists, the book features 250 breeding bird species in Minnesota. It will be available in April.

“Almost everybody loves birds,” said Lee A. Pfannmuller, coauthor and retired director of the Division of Ecological Resources at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “But we couple that with some technical information about distribution, how things have changed and conservation efforts. None of the books to date have done that.

“The closest was TS Roberts in 1932,” she said. “We thought it was time for an update.”

Lee A. Pfannmuller, co-author of The Breeding Birds of Minnesota

Unlike Roberts’ two-volume book, The Breeding Birds of Minnesota is categorized as an atlas. It breaks the state into small units to more accurately document where species occur.

“Some of our counties are bigger than states in New England,” Pfannmuller said. “An atlas is a way to get more site-specific information about breeding birds and where they occur in the state.”

The preparation for The Breeding Birds of Minnesota was particularly well developed, said Francesca Cuthbert, professor emerita of the University of Minnesota in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology,

“Minnesota did a particularly good job of planning & deciding how they were going to sample the state, how many people were needed, how many years it would take,” she said. “They were successful at raising money through state funding and other donation sources. They really carefully progressed step-by-step.”

To launch the research for the atlas, nearly 700 volunteers visited segments of land throughout Minnesota during the summer to document which species were present – a process that took five years to complete.

Janet C. Green, co-author of The Breeding Birds of Minnesota

Pfanmuller then worked with co-authors Gerald Niemi and Janet C. Green, to summarize and analyze the data and develop a website documenting the distribution of each bird species recorded through the research.

A month later, the three began to work on the book.

The atlas incorporates the findings from Roberts’ book to provide historical context and compare differences in bird trends, populations and distributions to past reports.

Cuthbert said that the use of older literature to track change over time is what makes the atlas such a valuable resource.

“It’s my go-to resource for trends. What do we know about a certain species historically, and what do we know about them and their distribution now? Where were they recorded breeding and nesting, and where were they back in the 1930s and prior?” Cuthbert said. “It’s a monumental work, and if you put that together with Roberts, Minnesota is so fortunate to have those resources.”

Neimie said that one shocking advancement that the team recorded is how well conservation efforts are doing at preserving species.

Gerald Niemi, co-author of The Breeding Birds of Minnesota

“Something that really blew us away was some of the conservation efforts,” Niemi said. “People know about bald eagles, but the wild turkey population is exploding.”

On the other hand, climate change is expected to accelerate the loss of species.

“If the predictions are right, we’re going to be losing a lot of species by 2050,” Niemi said. “Certainly over the next hundred years, it’ll be interesting to see what happens.”

Niemi hopes that the atlas can bring awareness to the importance of conservation efforts in species protection, and inspire readers to extend their support.

“There are a lot of success stories – bald eagles, peregrine falcons, trumpeter swans,” he said. “If we understand what the conservation issues are early on, we can help some of these species.”

The Breeding Birds of Minnesota is published by The University of Minnesota Press and set to release in April. It can be preordered on Amazon for $59.95.

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